4 tips to get your picky eater to eat their lunch at school

uneaten school lunch

4 tips to get your picky eater to eat their lunch at school

My kid won’t eat his school lunch (or snacks). He’s in grade 1 and his lunch kit often comes home like this ^. You can see one teeny-tiny bite out of the sandwich.

I’ve tried leftovers (even pizza!) and he says he doesn’t like it or he’s embarrassed to eat it. He NEVER eats ‘normal’ kid lunch snacks like cheese, yogurt, even crackers…if your kid is like this too, read on for some lunch ideas for picky eaters!

These are the only items he sometimes eats:

– packaged granola bars (not homemade)

– a Nutella or butter sandwich

– Lunchables

– ‘Hot lunch’ ordered through the school (fast food). He always eats this. It’s tasty, and what most other kids eat, so I order these 2 meals per week.

So is it really a problem that my kid rarely eats at school? He eats a huge breakfast, after-school snack, dinner and bedtime snack. So I’m not concerned that he doesn’t get enough to eat if he skips eating during the day. He makes up for it at other meals during the day.

But I imagine he’d feel better and learn better at school if he ate something…

So I went to Instagram and Facebook for help and got a ton of sympathy (he’s not the only one!) and great ideas for lunch ideas for picky eaters. Thanks for your contributions, which are summarized below:

1) Get your picky eater involved in making school lunches:

Stacy says her picky eater has been helping put lunches together since kindergarten. When they grocery shop, mom lets her daughter pick out which fruits and veggies to buy. Kids do like taking ownership and are more likely to eat something they had a role in making.

Julie also takes her daughter shopping and does a ‘challenge’: choose one veggie, one fresh fruit, one snack and one main for school they run around the store! This may not work if your kids are younger or you have a large or busy local grocery store, but sounds like fun!

2) Is the lunch tasty and appealing to your child?

Laura gets her son to make dark chocolate-covered breadsticks with sprinkles to add to lunches. Sounds fun and yummy!

And there were lots of votes for Bento box-style lunches. Include items like cheese and crackers, turkey pepperoni, veggies and hummus, trail mix, popcorn, mini muffins, fruit skewers or cream cheese and ham pinwheel tortilla rolls.

Foods presented differently might also be more appealing. Like sandwiches cut into triangles or with a cookie cutter. Or sending a different main dish beyond the sandwich. My (other) kids enjoy these Pizza Rolls.

Leftovers for dinner in a thermos is a nutritious and tasty lunch. Plus easy. My son won’t touch this if I send it, but I’ll keep trying maybe once per month. One day he will change his mind!

3) Make the food easier and quicker to eat:

Kids don’t get a lot of time to eat lunch at school. So make sure your kids can open the packages and containers easily.

Lots of moms suggested finger food. Cutting everything up into bite-sized pieces makes it more appealing (less overwhelming) and easier/quicker to eat.

In the example lunch above, I could have cut the sandwich into small squares and sliced the apples. I don’t do this for apples now because sliced apples come home uneaten too. And they go right into the garbage, whereas a full apple can be eaten by someone else! But I like the suggestion, and it’s true for many kids 🙂

In this interview with Global News, I’ve included some Avocado Blueberry Mini Muffins, which are a good finger food. And sliced veggies with dip. Sliced fruits or veggies always seem more likely to get eaten!

4) Send what your child likes and will eat for school lunch:

Most often I send a Nutella sandwich. Nutritious? Not really- Nutella is mostly sugar. But there are a few nuts in there and the bread is whole wheat. Is it better than him eating nothing? Yes.

Rosemary sends soft white bread and filled with honey maple ham and cheese, with fresh tomatoes on the side. She says “It’s not broccoli, but it’s protein and nutrition, and precious bites in her tummy, and she always eats it.” That’s all worth something!

But don’t give up. It’s still a good idea to offer mall amounts of foods that you know your child probably won’t eat. It counts as an ‘exposure’ and one day your child will likely try new foods. Because if they’re never offered these foods, then, of course, they will never eat new foods!

Lunch ideas for picky eaters:

There were so many great ideas from Kimberly, I’m just going to post her quote here:

I do cheese and crackers with a dip (hummus or guacamole), a pickled egg, crackers, cheese and pickles, wrap with cream cheese, nachos with guacamole. Side are either a homemade lentil granola bar, green blender muffins, blueberry, banana, pumpkin or bran muffins, blueberry quinoa breakfast bars, toasted quinoa granola bars. Always fruit and veggies. Roasted chickpeas, sunflowers seeds, pumpkin seeds. Raisins. Roasted green peas and lentils. Homemade energy balls. Broccoli & cauliflower bits. Applesauce. A fruit and veggies bar. We like the made good bars. Cheerios. Popcorn (homemade not microwave and we just send it in a baggie).”

I also love Melissa’s lunch idea: “Try a breakfast themed lunch – pancakes, waffles, egg cupcakes & egg & sausage on an English muffin.”

Another recipe that my other two kids have enjoyed is pizza rolls. I like to store them in the freezer and grab for lunches as needed, with a little tub of pizza sauce for dipping.

Look into school policy:

Another thing to consider is the lunch environment and school policy.

Lunchtime recess should come before eating. Experience and research have shown the benefits to include less food waste because the kids eat more, and are better behaved. If kids play before eating, aren’t trying to rush eating to get outside and play and they come in with a good appetite.

My son says his classroom does go for recess before eating, while other classrooms eat and then go out. I imagine this is new due to covid, and limiting the number of kids on the playground. But if you want to broach this idea with your school admin, this page has some good suggestions on how to do it.

And does your child’s classroom watch movies or TV during lunchtime? This seems to be more and more common. Some children may eat more in front of the TV but other kids will get distracted and forget to eat. And we really don’t want to be encouraging distracted eating in front of the TV. So this might be something to ask the teacher about too.

I hope this gives you some new ideas to try for your picky eaters school lunch if it also comes home uneaten! If you want more help with feeding a picky eater, check out my free training: How to teach kids to try new foods without struggles at dinnertime.

mother with her young children
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Founder of First Step Nutrition | Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Jen believes raising happy, well-nourished eaters who have a healthy relationship with food doesn't have to be a battle! She is an author and speaker with 18 years of experience specializing in family nutrition and helps parents teach their kids to try new foods without yelling, tricking, or bribing.



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